Overcoming Sexual Abuse: My Healing or My Marriage?

Aug 23rd, 2011 | By | Category: All Posts, Christina's Blog

by Christina Enevoldsen

I saw myself standing next to a long line of people waiting to have their requests fulfilled. I wasn’t in the line; I was standing to the side, waiting for permission to get in the line. I wasn’t sure if it was the sea of humanity who decided if I was allowed to enter the line or if it was particular individuals. I only knew that there were a lot of people standing between me and my fulfilled desires. That’s the image I had for most of my life.

When it came to healing from sexual abuse, I had that same sense. I thought I had done my healing work years ago, but when it became clear that I still had work to do, I didn’t know if it was “my turn” to heal. It was my habit to ask “permission” when I wanted to start something new in my life. I would mention my new idea to the people closest to me and wait for their replies.

When I talked about delving deeper into the sexual abuse history, I was particularly interested in my husband’s response. I knew the process would put the most strain on him and on our relationship. Don was unaware that I was asking for his approval; he thought I was simply asking for his support. But it was his approval, not his support that I wanted.

I’m not sure what I would have done if Don had questioned the timing or asked how long the process might take or said anything else that would have discouraged me. I probably would have shrunk back and been angry that it wasn’t “my turn” yet. I would have likely felt rejected and resented serving and serving others, not knowing when I could attend to my needs.

Though Don was extremely encouraging of my journey, I tried to keep my healing in as small a space as possible—only heal when nobody was looking. I wanted to rush through my healing or to hide it in a box. “Is this okay? Am I bothering you? Is my mess making you uncomfortable?” I didn’t want the unpleasantness to spill over into his “space”. He never expressed any impatience or displeasure but when would his patience run out? When would he tell me enough was enough?

This was my issue and it wasn’t fair that he had to suffer through this process with me. When Don married me, we both thought I “had it together”. He didn’t bargain for the drama that this process brings.

Though I tried not to let my process show, I’ve had sudden angry outbursts, I’ve been morose for hours or days, I’ve cried for unknown reasons. Don has been here through it all. He’s listened to me pour out memories, he’s witnessed me beating my pillow to smithereens, he’s held me when I’ve cried and he’s stayed out of the way when I needed to be alone.

His unwavering love made me even more nervous. I’d never been able to trust in anyone’s love before or to have a relationship that wasn’t based on what I could do for them. I was married to an abuser for twenty-one years before marrying Don and I was finally facing the truth that I never had my parent’s love. And in the thick of the healing process, I didn’t have very much to give. Since I thought giving and serving was my only worth, I was terrified of losing my husband’s love. I knew he’d never leave me, but the thought of him staying while not loving me seemed worse. My past experience was screaming in my head that I couldn’t trust him. His love would run out and trusting in his support was setting me up for a fall. I knew his permission to heal would be withdrawn at any moment.

After all the losses I’d already experienced and all the times I’d had a broken heart, I thought I couldn’t afford to find out if this relationship was real. How much pain and loss could I handle? But the more I thought about it, I’d already experienced so much betrayal and hurt that I couldn’t afford to settle for another relationship that wasn’t based on real love. I had to confront my fear that I’d be abandoned if I asked for real love. I finally acknowledged that I needed it and was starting think that maybe I deserved it.

Telling myself that it wasn’t fair to inflict my process on him was really just an expression of my fear that he wouldn’t love me if he felt slighted. It was true that he never asked for this and it wasn’t fair to him. But I never asked for any of this either. Should I keep myself in misery so he wouldn’t be inconvenienced? Should I deny myself healing to spare him its intrusion? I don’t have to apologize for my healing process or the things it brings up.

Why did he get to decide if it was alright for me to heal? I had to take back the power to grant or withdraw permission. Whether my husband violently opposed my investment in myself or he was my biggest cheerleader, it became MY decision.

If you ask my husband what has been the most difficult part of my healing process, he’ll tell you that there have been more rewards than challenges (isn’t he diplomatic?) and it’s true that he’s benefiting from my growth. But for once, it’s not about him or anyone else. This process is for me.

I’ve chosen myself first for the first time in my life. I’ve dared to put my healing before my marriage or my husband. It’s challenged all my fears and I’ve learned that my husband loves me. When I started this process, I didn’t know if I’d still have his love on the other side of this. But I had to decide to love me most. And what I got after that was the security of the love for myself, my husband’s love, and a very satisfying healing journey.

I don’t see myself waiting on the side of the line anymore. In fact, I don’t see the line at all. I know there’s nobody waiting at the front of any line handing out my needs. I’m the person handing out the answers to my needs. And I don’t have to wait anymore.

Related Posts:
My Sexual Abuse Invaded My Marriage
Dating After Sexual Abuse: Is This Love?
Do Kids Miss Out While Parents Heal?

Christina Enevoldsen is cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Christina’s passions are writing and speaking about her own journey of healing from abuse and inspiring people toward wholeness. She and her husband live in Los Angeles and share three children and four grandchildren.

[read Christina’s story here]

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24 comments
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  1. Christina, this is a very powerful statement that I also had to face, “I’d never been able to trust in anyone’s love before or to have a relationship that wasn’t based on what I could do for them.” Letting down that last seperating wall and finally trusting that they just loved me for me… was the hardest of all fo me to do. And of course learning to put myself at the head of the line….oops, there is no line anymore! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us all.

  2. Linda,
    Yes, that was SO hard! In every relationship before this–any type of relationship– I was too afraid to take the risk not to be loved. I was always willing to setting for the fake stuff since I thought that was better than nothing. But that kind of thinking was fueled by my shame. I didn’t think it was possible or likely that someone would truly love me. So I thought in terms of fake love or no love. Thanks for sharing your feelings about this!
    Hugs, Christina

  3. Great post! I can understand not wanting to inconvenience other so or drive people away with your healing, but you made a great decision.

  4. Thanks, Bethany! I agree that I made a great decision! Actually, the way it worked for me, it was a lot of little decisions that eventually turned into resolve and determination. I’m so glad that we BOTH made that decision!
    Love, Mom

  5. Christina,
    WOW.. Although my story regarding my own marriage is VERY different because my husband was not supportive and although I didn’t realize it at first, he was part of the problem in the first place. The way that our marriage worked back then, HIS needs WERE the most important thing in both my mind and his.

    BUT in spite of that, I came to the same conclusions regarding my healing; that I was going to do it for ME. For the first time in my life I was going to put me first and I was going to go all the way no matter what because I finally realized that was my only hope. It was my only hope for having a full and happy life, it was my only hope for my kids to see functional relationship, it was my only hope for overcoming the chronic depressions that I had struggled with my whole life. SO I decided that if my husband didn’t want to accept my decision, then divorce would be an option. It was a horrifically difficult decision, but I have never regretted it. My husband eventually saw that he too had some issues and that he needed to do his work too and today we are very happily living in a co-creative loving relationship as two people with equal value, and our kids have a vastly different home environment then they had before. A much better one. A much more loving one. A much more mutually valuing one.

    I love your blog post today! By finally putting me first, I have been able to actually serve others and make a difference in the lives of my loved ones. I chose me. I chose to love me the way that I always wanted to love my family, and as a result, all the love got so much more true and real.
    Hugs, Darlene

  6. There’s so much here I could respond to and share. Powerful post, Christina. Felt every word.

    And have the tears to go with them! ((Hugs))

    With love,
    Samantha

  7. Darlene,
    Thanks for sharing your experience about how your process affected your marriage. I’m so glad Jim had a change of heart after all and that your marriage and family were all saved because of the steps you started taking. Sometimes the things that seem to most threaten those relationships are actually what makes it possible to save them.

    I came to the same conclusion you did: ” By finally putting me first, I have been able to actually serve others and make a difference in the lives of my loved ones. I chose me. I chose to love me the way that I always wanted to love my family, and as a result, all the love got so much more true and real.”

    That’s such an excellent point. By putting myself first, I not only found out I was truly loved, I was also able to love more truly! Thank you for your input!
    Hugs, Christina

  8. Hi Samantha!
    Thanks, I’m glad you could identify with it!
    Hugs, Christina

  9. ‘I tried to keep my healing in as small a space as possible—only heal when nobody was looking. I wanted to rush through my healing or to hide it in a box. ..’ Man, that so resonates with me, thank you so much for this amazing post.

  10. Dave,
    I’m glad you liked it. It was so eye-opening to me to see how much of what I was doing to spare others my mess, especially my husband, was really a fear of losing love or finding out I never had it. I always thought I was being so unselfish to be so considerate, but it was all about fear. Once I started to find just a little bit of my true value, it was easier to confront that fear. I hope you know that you deserve to do this for yourself and to be supported and loved throughout it. We had to carry the secret of our abuse for long enough; we shouldn’t have to carry our healing as a secret. Thanks for your comment
    Christina

  11. I am lucky to have a husband who has supported me and stayed by my side when I was bedridden for a number of years. He was with me when family insisted on reconcilation and then did horrible things, He asks what would you do without me? Honestly I don’t know. I wonder sometimes why he stayed. It can’t be easy being with someone who is walking hell’s fire to retreive their soul. I am mindful of him in that I can overload sometimes. I have to remember he has his stressors too. Being isolated from a crippling disease hasn’t been easy to come back from, but I have found a community of disabled, family, that don’t judge by appearance. We embrace our abilities and strive forward. I can think back but won’t look back and get pulled back, only forward to hands reaching out and pulling up hands. Like all of you!

  12. Mary,
    I’m glad you’ve found more healthy and supportive relationships! I love your declaration: “I can think back but won’t look back and get pulled back, only forward to hands reaching out and pulling up hands.” Thanks for sharing that.
    Christina

  13. I am having trouble with my marriage because my husband is angry at our lack of intimacy. He has always been supportive the past two years in me going through this abuse and ever since we got married he is angry now and wants to all to go away. We get in these bad fights and then it makes me feel more distant from him. I see a therapist and am trying to get him to go. I dont know what else to do to make things better? I wish he could just be more patient but I understand his frustration. It feels like we will never get out of this cycle.

  14. Meagan,
    I understand your frustration over not know what else you can do to make things better. I always took all the responsibility for my relationships instead of recognizing that I could only do so much and the other person had to do their part too. It was hard to let go of that because it felt like giving up. But I was giving up so much more to try to make everybody happy and to try to fix things that weren’t mine to fix. I learned that I could only fix me, which was my part in fixing the relationship.
    Christina

  15. My husband and I started out very rocky, he had his rejections too. My family blamed him for the reason we didn’t get along, though my fallng out with family came well before my husband did. Just something else to obsolve them from guilt and someone else to blame. We lived togther as a couple, not married yet, when I was flattened by a crippling disorder overnight. Last big fight we had is I told him if you’re here out of pity and not love you can leave right now. Fortunately for me he stayed. We were both immature from life’s abuses but we matured together.
    Where we didn’t agree is he didn’t understand no contact, family was family, I should forgive. I swallowed it and did Xmas with family that year, he got a plastic monster from Mom for Xmas! lol It brought it home to him real fast! I went no contact for several more years until Dad died. Dad came to me in spirit and gave me a big bear hug and all was forgiven in that moment. Two years later he came again and said “Momma needs you!” repeatedly. Mom at the same time got a message from him too saying that I needed help. so Mom and I came together but the first 2 years were the worst abuses I ever suffered at her hands. She offered to help get my teeth fixed, but my sister interjected and told her it was too much. My sister had no problem travelling the world on Mom’s dime though, or starting 3 different businesses that falied. My husband saw me go through the grief and how it impacted my health. He was on board when I said I had to move away from the crap.
    He saw me rally around and embrace living again. I kept a long distance contact with Mom and I went home for her birthday and stayed a week. It was the best visit we ever had, my interfering sister even stayed out of it for a change. We called and emailed regularly and it was fairly pleasant between us.
    Mom died and we went to the funeral and my siblings were at their abusive worst. I realized how abnormal these people are. It seems they adapted every negative from our parents there was. It was hard to be around them. My sister aimed a few poison darts throughout that time to try and evoke and all out war, I ignored her behavior. It was to cover the evil they were preparing to deal out. That I was left off the will even though Mom had showed my son a ledger that spelled it out way different. I have to think my sister played a role in the outcome, If she saw my Mom’s intent in that ledger that it was to be equal amongst us she would had a fit. Didn’t she do everything for Mom these past few years? She manipulated Mom since Dad died, she is a very crafty, methodical person when she wants her way and Mom was very naive especially to her. What killed me is all of my siblings were on board too. The other sister who had called me all year with her grief and memories from abuse would not give me an answer why. Where is the ledger what did it say? She didn’t want to get involved and only said it wasn’t in the will. That was good enough for her. She was left $250k what did she care? She told me she was the peacemaker and didn’t like conflict. I later wrote a final no contact letter and told her her silence was the most abusive of all, knowing the turmoil and shared history we had and accepting I deserved this.
    So my husband had to experience me hitting a bottom once again.but this time is different. He had to go through that with me to see what my family was about and it leaves no question why I have to break free of them. He thinks they are straight up evil because they are! It was the last time he saw see me go numb, tune out, disconnect, but he patiently waited for me to process through it.
    Now they way is clear and it is time for us, time for my children and time for our grandchildren. We have a life outside of them and I am healing and starting to live again. There is no turning back anymore. Been there done it and did it again and my husband saw it and there is no need to put ourselves through their hell again.
    I thank God for a husband who chose to go the distance, together 17 yrs. now.
    For the record, I never bought it, always resented it but held my tongue to get along until I reached my limit and couldn’t do it anymore. There is no “real” family there!

  16. Mary, I’m so glad you have a husband who has learned to be supportive of your journey!

  17. Lack of sex I thought had to do with sexual abuse but now I’m not so sure. I think I want to clear and focus on things that have more priority. My head wants to be sorted out and it wears me out. Some days I am too tired to do anything let alone sex. How I take that is we have to have stillness and time to rejuvenate and repair. I have to be true to that more than anything else. Some days I nap more but I am just going to go with the flow rather then fret about it. I can’t let myself be pressured about what I should be doing or not. There is a lot of years of stress to unravel.
    We are constantly hitting the reset button to cancel out what was pre-programmed. I am tuning into my own station and it is hard, the channel wants to keep flipping back. It is different now that I have the controller. It is new to me and sometimes I don’t know what station i want to be on. Dr. Phil, Judge Judy, or Oprah. But all I know is I won’t do soap opera’s, those days are done! lol

  18. Good for you, Mary!

  19. This article resonates so deeply in my soul. I thought I was finished with my healing, but I am not free. I have been married to a wonderful man for 5 years, and we have a beautiful daughter. I began to shut down as we got closer. I thought it was hormones, and my husband and I entered sex therapy. It has become clear that sex and intimacy terrify me. I can’t believe I feel this way, but I have to be honest. My husband is amazingly supportive, but I wish I could give more. I am working very hard in therapy and it is so so hard. I can not will ,or thnk
    my way into feeling safe. It is so frustrating, but I have faith. I have worked through other difficult issues related to the abuse. One thing that always puzzles me is my amazing capacity to be affectionate and loving with my daughter. It lets me k ow that I have an incredible capacity to love.

  20. Marci,
    I know how frustrating that feels to realize there is more to deal with. I’m glad you know you’re worth the effort. Hoorah for a supportive husband in the midst of that! Thank you for sharing.
    Christina

  21. Hi I am finding the next stage of my Relashoneship Because it the next stage of having Sex which I thought I had gone through with my Fianca but still he gets so frustrated but I keep telling him he has to be Patient but on holiday he said it was my fault but took a while to calm down. I exsplained it to my social worker and she said that I would be a good IDEar to speak to a Sextheripist been there once didnt work. I do want Sex but like People say it up to me when Im ready to have sex and not to get pushed in to it when Im not ready. Please can any one give me Advice
    From Clare

  22. One last time and lesson learned! Went to stay with a cousin and was horribly betrayed. Shut down again for the past 3 months. I have to let go of the entire family, cousins and all. They have them convinced all these years what I am. I was too ill to fight back and say different. This cousin should know better but they are so good at bastardizing. So yes the sex shut down, the emotions, caught back in the hole again. Can’t go there anymore. To do so would be suicidal. I want to live whole and happy. They can be their splintered selfs and lie on top of lie. Whoever buys into it good luck to them. They can’t convince me I am the evil one, it is lost on me because it isn’t truth. They are all psychopaths, not just narciccists and that’s the real truth!
    My husband and I deserve peace and have to turn our backs on this to get it!

  23. I really enjoyed reading your storry and all of the comments. about 4 months ago my wife of 16 years shared with me the story of her sexual abuse at the hands of here estranged father. This took me totally by surprise to say the least. I was very calm and as supportive as I knew how to be. I have read so many stories, I was truly ignorant as to how many people live as survivors. After several months of talking sparingly about this, my wife agreed that she needed to talk to a therapist, she said “i’m not going to let him ruin my life”. Because She was very scared, I made found her a therapist and went with to the first session.
    Well here we are 4 months in, and i have to say it hasnt been easy. My wife is very up and down emotionally and often times she is very distant with me, but thankfully not to our children. Through this process, we have learned many things. She harbors great guilt and shame, that is the hardest thing for me to see. Also, we have discovered together that over the course of our marriage, I have really leaned on here for my own self reassurance. I can no longer do this as she has little to give emotionally. I am now seeing a therapist to work on my own insecurity issues. Again this is a hard thing, In all our years I never realized that my wife was really holding me up.
    I love my wife more than anything, she is an amazing person, an amazing mother and my best friend! I’m afraid I’m not doing the right things to support her, maybe I’m doing to much, maybe not enough, I’m not sure. Any insite would be most appreciated. Can you explain how your husbands supported you?

    Thank you!

  24. I really understand, Christina, about wanting to ‘contain’ every side effect of working on our recovery. When I started my recovery, I was rejected by several friends, family and the man I was planning to marry. Looking back now, I know he never loved me and ‘fake’ , as you said, was better than nothing. Currently, I’m in the healthiest relationship, thus far, and yes, I am terrified my ‘little messes’ will run him off. Or he will keep it inside until one day he just decides he’s had enough. Well, he has seen panic attacks before and understands what to do. He has been patient and kind. He asks me questions and offers support. I am not used to this. As much as I am so happy to have found a man like that, I am at a place of extreme fear because I do not know this kind of love. I am so terrified of losing it. I love myself very much and focus on being my own friend, mother, etc. so as not to rely on something or someone for it. Yet the more he loves me, the more he or his love scares me.

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